“Mikey Saber is a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown, not that anyone really wants him back.”

Director: Sean Baker
Writers: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Staring: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, Ethan Darbone
Release Date: December 24, 2021

Sometimes a movie just isn’t for you. The movie can win awards and garner huge audience praise but not connect with you on an entertaining level. I had this sort of relationship with Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022), but despite my timid feelings I still wanted to finish it. Red Rocket (2021) took this sense of self betrayal to a whole new level.

Red Rocket (2021) was a chore for me to finish despite the fact that it is well made and incredibly well acted. Everything about the movie is technically sound and worthy of praise. Sean Baker writes yet another incredibly interesting script that takes a unique sect of society and places unforgettable characters on the screen. Simon Rex comes from out of nowhere and holds the part of Mikey Saber with a vice grip. Suzanna Son takes her first full-time screen roll and runs away with the spotlight.

Red Rocket is a good movie.

I did not enjoy Red Rocket.

Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) is a washed-up former male porn star who returns to his small hometown in Texas without a dollar to his name. He shacks up with his wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and his mother in law Lil (Brenda Deiss). The trio have a relationship that is tense, to say the least. Mikey and Lexi are together on paper, but their bards back and forth prove that the word marriage doesn’t equal love.

In a town where everyone knows everyone, Mikey goes about mending past relationships he abandoned or ruined. He begins selling weed from the same dealer he worked with back in high school. He then latches himself to his neighbor Lonnie (Ethan Darbone) who becomes his chauffeur and therapist. Mikey talks to Lonnie non-stop about the times of the past and his plans for the future, both of which involve the world of pornography. Mikey will talk to anyone about his AVN awards, even if he has to awkwardly shoehorns it in.

Red Rocket pivots on a dime when Mikey becomes infatuated with 17 year old Strawberry (Suzanna Son). The short-haired free spirited Donut shop worker immediately grabs Mikey’s attention with her look. After some terrible jokes and brutal pins, the pair become attached at the hip. Strawberry proves that despite her young age, she does have an incredibly strong sense of independence and adventurousness. Mikey’s desire to prove his testosterone level and Strawberry’s wide-eyed gaze allows Red Rocket’s main character to dream big about a potential return to the adult video world.

Mikey lies through his teeth to impress Strawberry while grooming her to be his way back into the world he so wishes to return to. As Red Rocket progresses towards its final moments, However, because he is a fuck up, the plan does not go according to plan. It is a giant cluster fuck, and in the end Mikey finds himself in a very familiar spot, just in front of a different door.

Suzanna Son as Strawberry and Simon Rex as Mikey Saber

Red Rocket is awkward. Oh, so, very awkward. You can see the stupid mistake certain characters are going to make being foreshadowed by Baker’s script. You can see the two paths Mikey could take, and without fail, he takes the wrong one. If you can’t handle second hand embarrassment, then Red Rocket is going to be a struggle for you as well. Also, side note, as I am writing this I am watching Not Okay (2022) which is also quite terrible for easy cringers out there.

Sean Baker has a knack for portraying the tough to look at parts of society. In The Florida Project (2017), Baker spins a truth-telling tale of poverty around the precocious behavior of a six year old Moonee. The stories told at that cheap Florida condo complex doesn’t contain many likable characters, but you have the grounding performance of Oscar nominated Willem Dafoe to be the moral compass. You also have the point of view of a six year old so you can’t blame a child for not fully understanding the world around her.

In Red Rocket, everyone involved is of age and maturity to have some sense of societal norms. A movie like this makes me think that I am a genius for being normal, but does this thinking make me an asshole for seeing the mistakes that these characters are making. I think this is part of the reason why Baker throws in Donald Trump political news coverage on in the background throughout points of the movie. There are people who look at and interact with life differently, and there are more than you know. Regardless of your political believes, you can’t be naive enough to think that your way of thinking is the only way, or the more rational way. That is all subjective.

Am I beginning to think too deep about what Red Rocket is saying about society and the way people perceive certain individuals? Honestly, I don’t think so. Baker writes with a ton of depth and he is not afraid to shine the flashlight on the rather unseemly traits of his character, and of the viewer.

Sean Baker’s writing in Red Rocket is wonderfully acted about by Simon Rex. Where did this come from? Who is this Simon Rex? If you look at Rex’s IMDB, Red Rocket jumps off the page as an outlier. This award-worthy performance is filled with frantic, over-confident and talkative energy. Nobody can deny the fact that Baker gets the best out of Rex. It is crazy that an actor who was most known for his appearance in the Scary Movies is the fulcrum for a movie that features many nonprofessional or unknown actors.

Rex’s performance is the most valuable to Red Rocket, but the most outstanding is Suzanna Son. The Montana born actress has four things accredited to her IMDB but she is about to get a shit-ton of phone calls and e-mails to riffle through. Son is undeniable in Red Rocket. She has an immense amount of confidence. Her first scene on set for Red Rocket is Strawberry’s most vulnerable scene. She is topless with Rex in her pink bedroom and after filming a homemade porno with Mikey, she gets up and sings a heartfelt rendition of ‘Nsync’s Bye Bye Bye. The anthem for Red Rocket plays at the start, at the end and in this crucial third act moment.

The super interesting aspect about Bye Bye Bye being the anthem of Red Rocket is that it paints a musical image of the difference in age between Mikey and Strawberry. Whenever Mikey is listening or evoking the song, it is the original. The one he grew up with. It is loud, poppy, and nostalgic. It is yet another reason for Mikey to recall his glory days when he was banging professionally without any worries. When Strawberry sings her rendition of the song, it is slower, more heart-felt and much different in its emotional tone. It touches Rex down to his soul and is the final inspiration for him to leave Texas and get back to California with Strawberry by his side. Hearing the song in a different light flicks the light switch because it proofs to him that if he brings her then he will bring something wholly unique back to his personal Candyland.

Here is a casting dream of mine. I want an elevated horror movie that stars Mia Goth and Suzanna Son. I think you could insert the character of Strawberry in X (2022) with ease; both movies involve an older man with a younger women with dreams of grandeur while in a desolate place. Both Red Rocket and X have pornography as plot point to project more complicated ideas of self identity and self sabotage.

Suzanna Son
Mia Goth

I will never watch Red Rocket. I respect it for what it is. I respect Sean Baker’s ability to write and create an intoxicating world filled with unseemly but captivating characters. I respect Simon Rex giving the performance of his life, and I respect Suzanna Son for bursting onto the scene and guaranteeing herself a career propulsion. I respect Red Rocket for what it is, but what it is is not for me. I did not like watching this movie. This undoubtably says something about me, but what exactly, I don’t know.


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